Conformity and the NMRA

From the first time I entered an NMRA model contest, back in 1994, I have had a challenge with the Conformity section.  How did a freelanced model earn full points while my prototype model did not?  It didn’t take long at that first convention to fall in with Richard Hendrickson and the Prototype Modeller crowd.

The judging guidelines (you may have to log in to view the link) are pretty clearly written to allow this to happen:

This factor deals with what is commonly known as prototype practice. A model that is logically built and having the design features of a particular prototype being modeled is considered to be conforming to the prototype. The same considerations
are given to freelanced and cross-kit models. If the model was built full size, would it do the intended job?

This definition has always confounded me as it seems designed to enable a fanciful representation to earn the full points.

Well, why not?

Other than it just feels wrong, dang-it, I’ve never been able to explain why.  Then this weekend, I was kibitzing with a bunch of guys after one of the operating sessions at the Railway Modellers’ Meet, when Scott Calvert dredged out his copy of the judging guidelines.  This document is rife with matrices that essentially say simple models done well can’t score as highly as complex models executed to the same level.

In the Conformity section, it looks something like this:

Partly Prototypical Completely Prototypical
Minimal Conformity low points medium points
Extensive Conformity medium points high points

When taken with the definition above, a freelance model can be “Completely Prototypical” simply by following logical prototype practices.  The reason this fails for me is that in other areas, the columns represent increasing difficulty.  In Conformity, they do not.

When slavishly following the prototype, the form of a particular part matters; on a freelance model, it doesn’t, and I can simply substitute the nearest part that fulfills the requirement, provided it is logical.  So, for example, on the caboose above, the trucks were scratchbuilt to match the prototype.  If I had been building a freelance model, I would have simply chosen some pleasing trucks off a peg at Central Hobbies, and saved myself about forty hours of work.  Worse, if I had substituted those exact same pleasureful trucks under my Canada Atlantic caboose, it would lose points for conformity!

In other areas of the judging score sheet, the judges are encouraged to consider what the modeller was attempting to do, and how well they did it.  Modelling the prototype is harder than freelancing, and so, a model should not be considered “Completely Prototypical” unless it is presented with a photo of the prototype.


4 thoughts on “Conformity and the NMRA

  1. Ah yes, but model railroading is fun, and that pesky prototype just gets in the way.
    This inconsistency is something I’ve struggled with as a judge – seems pretty straightforward to me, but often the other judges I’m working with go out of their way to award points to a freelance model based on how it reflects prototype practices. Your caboose truck analogy is a perfect example.
    My first comment was (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek, but the attitude that freelanced models somehow conform to the prototype is firmly embedded in the hobby’s roots, and has obviously ended up in the judging/evaluation process so as not to reduce the number of points given to a freelance model.
    Try finding a military modeler who freelances. The model railroad hobby concept of freelancing makes absolutely no sense to them.

    1. Hi Marty,

      You make a great point about military modellers and freelancing. When they do freelance, it is almost a different hobby, and they call it “fantasy modelling.” By calling it this, they create a space for real creativity, which is missing from railway freelancing (with notable exceptions like the Emett modellers out there).


  2. hmmm, I hear you. I don’t see much point in that kind of feedback. “Nice model – you measure here on the scale. Some of that stuff you are passionate about doesn’t matter. BTW, the last guy scored higher than you, even though he had different values, different information, different tools, and different goals”. huh? Kind of like the vegetarian telling the carnivore why the ribs weren’t any good.

    For me, the primary satisfaction is in the modelling. That’s where most of the time goes. But I also enjoy being able to tell the story of the prototype to appreciative modellers. I like to look at proto photos and discuss modelling choices. If my workmanship could be improved (it can), I’m grateful for tactful criticism. That I enjoy.

    So I’d rather a venue that helps make those conversations happen. Preferably with a beer nearby.

    1. Hi Rob, To be honest, I don’t know entirely why I bother getting my models assessed. I generally know what should be improved in them. It is not usually the model that gets done — it’s me. A model is finished when I’ve had enough of it.
      In any event, there is a scoring system, that I always thought was not quite right. Now I’ve finally figured out why.

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